Beyond the Bells and Whistles – Tips & Tricks from Blackboard Exemplary Course Award Winners

Deb Everhart, Exemplary Course Director

Course winners:

  • Tess Bader
  • Cheryl Kautz
  • Chris Duke
  • Lyndon Godsall

PanelThere are seven directors in the Exemplary Course Program, Deb Everhart being among them. The core of the program is the rubric which is a tool divided up into four main areas to help faculty in reviewing their courses.

  1. Course Design
  2. Interaction & Collaboration
  3. Assessment
  4. Learner Support

This rubric is also used entirely outside of the Exemplary Course Program. For more information visit .

2012 was the largest year for the Exemplary Course Program. There were 151 courses submitted, 265 reviewers who produced more than 650 reviews. In the end 40 courses were awarded. Of those courses, four were selected to share in this session.

Tess Bader and her team of six developed English 130, Introduction to Literature. At CSU-Global each course has a template which is built in-house by a team. The three exemplary practices from this course were:

Consistency of Design Screenshot1. Interaction

  • Every course has six specific items in their course:
  • Faculty Information, including a picture, weekly office hours that are held through Blackboard IM, commitment and expectations that students can have of them throughout the course.
  • Discussions – Faculty are required to start a weekly discussion and all students must post their own response and reply to two others.
  • Live Classroom – The courses are all 100% online, so synchronous activities are not required. However, every course has a live classroom link in Wimba Classroom which CSU-Global will transitioning to Blackboard Collaborate. If faculty can commit to doing three live classroom sessions in a semester they receive a stipend.
  • Feedback & Grades – The best practice at the university is for faculty to mark up papers line-by-line with the commenting features in MS Word. Additionally, all assignments have rubrics to give students specific detail on how they will be graded.

2. Use of MediaScreenshot of Video & Podcasts

  • Each module has a written version of a lecture.
  • Video & Podcasts are included in the lectures. Podcasts from NPR and videos from appropriate sources to compliment the content of the lecture.
  • CSU-Global is currently working on a single-button translation for students to go from English to Spanish for any media in a course.
  • Accessibility: Every video or audio clip is transcribed and students can download, print, and use the written transcription.

3. Mastery Exercises

  • Check your understanding exercises are peppered throughout the course materials.
  • Mastery Exercises are for a grade and students may taken them an unlimited number of times. They are typically 10 questions in length and have no due date.

Cheryl Kautz, an adjunct faculty member at Grand Rapids Community College won an Exemplary Course Award for her Advanced Photoshop course.

1. ProjectsScreen Shot of Course Design: Projects

  • The heart of this course is in the projects.
  • A course link is provided to give students two ways to get to the projects – from the weeks and also directly from the navigation.
  • Inside a weekly folder, the set-up is consistent from week to week. The topics differ each week, but the layout is the exact same.
  • In some videos there are pop-up quiz questions which stop the videos and also ensure that students are paying attention.
  • For each project, there are screen captures of past student work to let students see examples without giving them the raw file.
  • In addition, there is a help link for each week which is a text file including all of the same information from the video in a different format  for students to use if they want or need the extra information.
  • Lastly is a learn more folder which gives students more activities and resources for students to use for fun.

2. RubricsScreenshot of Assessment Rubrics

  • Cheryl uses Blackboard’s Interactive Rubrics for her assessments.
  • The rubrics are provided for students as printable PDFs to give students a way to print out and be able to refer to the exact details of how their work will be graded.

Chris Duke uses the philosophy of ACA – developing courses that are active, collaborative, and authentic. This framework can be used to rework any course.

1. Announcements

  • Over the last few years, Chris has started to carry over his announcements from one semester to another. It increases efficiency, so the introductory announcement is already written each time.
  • This also helps carry over the lessons learned from one semester to the next.
  • Some of the announcements are scheduled to release. By having the announcement prepopulated, Chris can have the announcements be regular and consistent which increases his presence in the course without creating more work for Chris.

2. Module Structure

  • Everything is labeled either required, recommended, or optional.
  • Required items must be done as they will impact a student’s grade.
  • By having ever item in an module labeled, students are forced to be more active in the course and make their own decisions on what they need to do to be successful in the course.

3. Task List

  • Students get a checkable task list which is ordered sequentially thought the course which helps them manage their time and complete the necessary assignments and assessments.

4. Automated Notifications

  • If a student has not logged in over the last two days, they get an email template letting them know that they need to log in. The email is sent daily until the student logs in.
  • Students appreciate the emails. It make one student feel really guilty – but it evoked a response with the student which might be what you need to get them involved in the content.

5. Project Driven

  • Students make real life purchasing decisions, giving them active, collaborate, and authentic experiences.
  • Some students take all of their work and actually use it for purchasing a real computer at the end of the year.

Lyndon Godsall is an Instructional Designer at University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies and he won an award for the course Teaching and Learning Theory in Clinical Nursing Education.

1. Consistency

  • They used the learning modules in Blackboard and built everything into units.
  • A unit reflects a week and that reflects a course which can be copied into each semester as long as you don’t put a date in anything. 🙂
  • All units begin with an overview, objectives and a to do list which led to the consistent desired.
  • Learning objects were specifically developed for each unit.

2. Communication

  • They wanted to be in constant communication with the students.
  • Wikis, blogs, collaborate, and discussion boards were all used to provide regular communication with the students.
  • One of the strongest learning points in the course – in many of the online courses at this institution – have discussion boards to allow peer to peer and peer to teacher communications.
  • We created a class photo website. The gallery of pictures garnered a feeling of community amongst the group. The team asked students to provide a picture for the website – this really made the students feel like part of the classroom even though they would never be on campus together for the course.
  • Blackboard Collaborate was very important to regularly communicate with students. Each week there was a seminar to communicate with students and give them a way to communicate back with the team.

3. Appropriateness

  • Different types of multimedia was used throughout the course, but always appropriate media that adds meaning.
  • Video is shot in-house in a simulation lab in the school to allow them to shoot various scenarios.
  • 5 of the units contain embedded video via Vimeo.

About Meegan
Meegan has over fifteen years experience working in higher education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Statistics from Western Michigan University and a Master of Education with an emphasis on Instructional Technology from American InterContinental University Online. She is currently the Instructional Technologist/Designer at Grand Rapids Community College where her main focus is helping faculty to develop and deliver quality online and hybrid courses.

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